Vancouver’s Olympic smile is slipping. The beautiful city’s “Sea to Sky” Games seem to be sinking into a sea of meltwater, mud and straw while organisers scramble to get the extravaganza back on track.
If it is not thick fog, it is melting ice. Too much snow, or not enough snow. Or ugly fencing spoiling the view of the Olympic cauldron or a technical howler at the opening ceremony.
The horrific death of a Georgian luge competitor in training cast a black cloud over the start of the Games and organisers have struggled to emerge from its shadow as problems mount daily.
“It’s a little bit like lost luggage. It’s not whether your luggage gets lost, it’s how you deal with it,” organisers’ spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade brightly told reporters on February 16.
“We are dealt the cards we are dealt. We have done everything we could to put in place the very best plans.
“Sometimes things come up so the most important thing is being creative, responding quickly and coming up with good solutions.”
Weather as warm as the Canadian welcome played havoc with organisers’ plans, throwing Alpine skiing schedules into disarray and causing organisers VANOC to tear up 28,000 tickets to snowboard and freestyle skiing over safety concerns.
A lack of snow covering bales of straw used to build temporary sites for spectators left the Cypress Mountain unsafe, ticketing vice president Caley Denton explained, announcing that refunds would be given to everyone who had bought a general admission ticket.
That decision cost VANOC C$1.4 million but the real cost of destroying 28,000 spectators’ Olympic dreams could prove greater.
Each day of the Games has brought fresh problems from Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death on the luge track and the malfunctioning cauldron – in front of an estimated television audience of 3.5 billion – both on the day of the opening ceremony, to the ticket cancellations and the biathlon timing errors.
An ice-surfacing Zamboni had to be ordered from Calgary after rival machines failed to prepare the ice at speedskating satisfactorarily and events were delayed.
It has also not helped that protesters against the Games on the grounds that the money could have been spent better on social projects, also made headlines as the Olympics were kicking off with bouts of violence and vandalism.
International media has been quick to hammer the organisers. “Vancouver Games continue downhill slide from disaster to calamity” a headline on British newspaper The Guardian’s website read.
The Times newspaper’s online offering had a headline reading: “London 2012 can’t be worse than the Vancouver Games this winter.”
The same website reported Canada’s first gold medal on home soil with the headline: “Canada salvages gold from wreckage of tarnished Vancouver Olympics.”
Locals too have been critical of organisers.
“TEAR DOWN THIS FENCE!”
Their decision to house the permanent cauldron behind fencing – or what a Canadian TV reporter called a “ratty-looking prison camp fence” – has disappointed many.
Memento seekers wait patiently for a space to jam their cameras through a fence to get a clear picture of the striking cauldron.
“Mr. Furlong, tear down this fence!” an editorial in The Globe and Mail beseeched Games chief John Furlong.
“It is like they have taken the Berlin Wall and shipped it to Vancouver,” one local said.
Smith-Valada promised a solution to this latest grumble soon. “Perhaps we did underestimate the degree to which people would want to get close to it,” she told reporters, adding that something would be put in place soon to make the viewing more pleasant.
The International Olympic Committee insists it is happy with how the Games are going, however.
“We would take the same decision again,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told a news conference. “It would come to Vancouver.”